Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the best-loved and most celebrated British actors of the modern age with an incredibly rich and interesting filmography to his name. He is of course beloved to many television fans for his role opposite Martin Freeman in the BBC’s detective series Sherlock, but in the film sphere has for many years continued to surprise and delight audiences with a range of roles that cross almost every genre.
From indie films to historical dramas and sci-fi adventure to biopics and super hero franchises, Cumberbatch has proven that as an actor he has what it takes to truly light up the screen whatever the style of movie he chooses to take part in.
In our list, we rank the very best of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances, some starring roles in huge movies and some smaller but incredibly important and well-executed appearances in films that are perhaps better-know for other stars.
One thing is for sure, if you love the work of Benedict Cumberbatch, you will enjoy this countdown, and hopefully find something new to watch (or to go back and enjoy again).
If you’re ready, let us begin…
The Best Benedict Cumberbatch Movie Performances Ranked
7. Starter fo Ten
One of Cumberbatch’s early roles, this 2006 indie classic sees the actor play Patrick Watts, the stuck-up captain of a college quiz team who is pitted against upstart Brian Jackson (played by James McAvoy) from a working class background who is desperate to fulfil his childhood dream of competing on and winning the television quiz gameshow University Challenge. Although not the starring role in the film, Cumberbatch shines as Watts in a movie that also features performances from Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, Dominic Cooper and Catherine Tate.
6. The Mauritanian
This 2021 movie saw Benedict Cumberbatch play opposite Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim and Shailene Woodley in a legal drama based on the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian man who was held in the American-run Guantanamo Bay military detention centre in Cuba without charge between 2002 and 2016. Cumberbatch plays Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch in the excellent film, a military veteran and lawyer who is involved in the prosecution around the case as it begins to unfold. As always, Cumberbatch shows his range and skill as an actor in a versatile performance.
Written and directed by acclaimed British filmmaker Sam Mendes, this story takes place in the First World War during Operation Alberich and focusses on the mission of two British soldiers to get a message forward to call off what would be a doomed attack. Cumberbatch’s character, Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie (better known as Colonel) is a central plot point in the film but actually features on screen for a very short time in the star-studded movie – however, although a brief appearance, the impact that he and his performance has on the end of the film is breathtaking.
4. 12 Years a Slave
Although Cumberbatch is only a relatively small part compared to that of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the lead Solomon Northup, his performance as slave owner William Ford is a carefully crafted and beautifully executed piece of acting. The story follows Northup’s time as a slave and Cumberbatch’s Ford is the first person to buy him after he is taken into slavery. His role requires him to show some elements of kindness and compassion at the same time as doing something that is clearly wrong in trading in salves. A complex role which Cumberbatch is clearly able to handle.
3. Doctor Strange
Cumberbatch has proven that he is an actor with great range able to play as comfortably in indie films as he is in major franchises, so it was no surprise that he would please audiences as he entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Doctor Strange. This movie delighted fans as Cumberbatch brings alive the character in an origin story that tells us more about the brilliant neurosurgeon who learns some incredible arts of sorcery after a car crash that ends his career in medicine. Setting up a lot more plot points and adventures for the MCU to explore, this film, and Cumberbatch’s part in it are popular with Marvel fans.
2. The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion picked up an Oscar for helming this brilliant film, and Benedict Cumberbatch also quite rightfully won huge praise from critics and fans alike. This western set in 1920s Montana follows the story of two warring brothers, Phil and George Burbank, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons, and their relationship with a widow called Rose Gordon, played by Kirsten Dunst. Cumberbatch plays Phil, who unlike his brother is lonely and bitter and removed from the world. Cumberbatch delivers this performance with pin point accuracy at every turn, making this a very special watch for film fans.
1. The Imitation Game
In a performance that is truly brilliant on every level, Cumberbatch takes viewers on an emotionally devastating journey in his portrayal of Alan Turing in this 2014 biopic. It felt like his star as an actor could hardly burn brighter at this time, but the beautifully nuanced performance as the Cambridge mathematician who assembled a team that cracked the enigma code at Bletchley Park during the Second World War took him to a whole new level. Cumberbatch takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster from the dizzy heights of helping to defeat the Nazis to the crashing lows of Turing’s appalling treatment after the war for being homosexual. This is a truly brilliant example of the enormous and versatile talent that Cumberbatch brings.